Sub-Pelagic Trip

On October 18, I had a chance to go out on a boat trip to Phi Phi Island, one of the most popular tourist spots in Thailand. My biggest hope wasn’t for the white sandy beaches or the deep blue water which the island is famous for, but I was hoping to see and photograph frigatebirds which are somehow particularly common in that area.

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Adult male Lesser Frigatebird

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Adult male Lesser Frigatebird

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Adult male Lesser Frigatebird

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Adult male Lesser Frigatebird

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Adult male Lesser Frigatebird

And I wasn’t disappointed. Lesser Frigatebird was indeed quite common. On my way from Phuket to Phi Phi Island, I saw at least 3 adult males and 2 females. While on the way back, I saw 6 males and 2 females. This species is by far the least uncommon frigatebird in Thailand. Most records of stray birds in the Gulf of Thailand and Mekong River are of this species.

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Adult female Lesser Frigatebird

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Adult female Lesser Frigatebird

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Adult female Lesser Frigatebird

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Adult female Lesser Frigatebird

I was surprised to see that there were more male birds than females. I remember the last time I visited Phuket, I saw more female and juvenile-type frigatebirds more often, but that was in spring. Maybe there’s a seasonal change of male/female/juvenile proportion.

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Adult male Christmas Frigatebird

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Adult male Christmas Frigatebird scratching its head

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Adult male Christmas Frigatebird

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Adult male Christmas Frigatebird

But the best thing about the trip was to see adult male Christmas Frigatebirds, a bird now labelled as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. In total, I saw at least 4 adult males throughout the trip. There was also 1 juvenile frigatebird which I’m not confident enough to identify.

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Unidentified juvenile frigatebird

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Bridled Terns were quite abundant but didn’t come close to the ferry. All of them were in the less attractive non-breeding plumage.

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I also had a surprising lifer from Phi Phi Island which was the Pied Imperial Pigeon. A flock of more than 50 birds were coming to a distant fruiting fig tree.

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A pair of adult White-bellied Sea Eagles

On October 17, I also had a chance to visit Thai Muang district in Phang Nga province which is just about 1.5 hour drive from Phuket. The place is well known for the uncommon Spotted Wood Owl which is regularly seen in one of the parks close to the beach. A birding friend of mine from Phuketwas kind enough to take me there.

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Adult Eastern Yellow Wagtail (ssp. tschutschensis) in breeding plumage seen at Phuket Mining Museum

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My first view of the Spotted Wood Owl at Thai Muang

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Many Large-billed Crows came to mob the owls.

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The owls were quite confiding and allowed me to get really close.

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As soon as we arrived at the park, it started raining so badly. We had to stay in the car for about half an hour waiting for the rain to stop. When it finally did, we quickly scanned the park but saw no sign of the bird. After a while, a group of young children came and asked if we were looking for the wood owl. They spread out, ran and jumped from here and there looking for the bird and finally, a pair of Spotted Wood Owls flushed from one tree and moved to another. Needless to say it was a lifer for me and I was really happy to see and even photograph them.

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I’m impressed by the length of wings and tail on this one. It gives an impression that it might be a Black-nest Swiftlet but the tail doesn’t look particularly squarish.

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Can’t say much about this one. Note how the rump patch is not particularly pale.

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Another shot showing the rump

I also took loads of Aerodramus swiftlet photos which were abundant throughout the trip. Most of which I can’t say for sure which species they were. According to the guide books, there are 2 species of Aerodramus swiftlets here, Germain’s and Black-nest Swiftlet.

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Again, another bird with very strikingly long and slender wings but also with a very rounded tail.

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This one has overall shortish structure. I’m pretty sure that this is a Germain’s Swiftlet.

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Apart from the shortish tail, this one also shows a very pale rump patch. Another Germain’s Swiftlet, I’d say.

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Probable Germain’s Swiftlet

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Probable Germain’s Swiftlet

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Another Germain’s Swiftlet showing striking pale rump

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Probable Germain’s Swiftlet

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Probable Germain’s Swiftlet

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This individual has a striking squarish tail.

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Probable Black-nest Swiftlet; note longer wings and tail

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Probable Black-nest Swiftlet

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Probable Black-nest Swiftlet

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Probable Black-nest Swiftlet; note long squarish tail

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Probable Black-nest Swiftlet

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Probable Black-nest Swiftlet

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Probable Black-nest Swiftlet

I’m not saying that these swiftlets are correctly identified and I don’t think anyone can be 100% sure about that, but these are my best guesses according to literature and personal experience. If anyone can give me comments on the identification of Aerodramus swiftlets in the field (and outside the nesting colony, of course), I’d be more than happy to hear!

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2 thoughts on “Sub-Pelagic Trip

  1. Interesting write-up. I’m still hunting for my first Frigatebird images. How did you managed to get some many clear shots of the swiftlets? Well done.

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